St. Lawrence Seaway – Eisenhower Lock – Massena, NY

St. Lawrence Seaway – Eisenhower Lock – Massena, NY (Location)


The Eisenhower Lock near Massena NY (Location) is one of two American-operated locks on the St. Lawrence River. Five other locks are operated along this route on the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River and are, collectively, an integral part of the St. Lawrence Seaway System. The St. Lawrence Seaway locks provide a method for ocean vessels to travel from Montreal, Quebec to Lake Ontario and then back again without the need for intermediary-sized vessels. A further collection of locks between the Great Lakes opens the route all of the way to Thunderbay, Ontario and Duluth, Minnesota on the western end of Lake Superior, a total distance of about 3700 km or 2300 miles.


The Eisenhower Lock was completed in July 1958 and is one of many interesting places to stop along the St. Lawrence Trail. It has an outdoor viewing platform situated above the museum and gift shop so that visitors can watch the large ocean-going vessels pass through the locks.  Unfortunately, there are safety restrictions relating to the times that the platform can be occupied, and, as luck would have it, the particular ship that was going through while I was there was one of those vessels could not be watched up-close from the upper observation deck.

Although there might be some differences from one set of locks to the other, the basic principal is the same for all marine locks.  The simple purpose is to move the vessel from a higher body of water down to a lower body of water and in reverse of the same procedure move a vessel from a lower body of water up to a higher body of water usually to bypass a set of rapids or a naturally occurring waterfall. In order to accomplish this, two sets of gates are utilized.  When the vessel is headed downstream, the downstream gate is closed and the water fills up behind the gate until the level of water within the walls/channel of the lock is at the same level as the upper body of water.

Once the level in the lock is the same as the level in the upper body of water, the ship or boat can enter the confined area of the lock and the second gate is closed behind the ship. A catch cable is put in place to prevent the ship from damaging the locks.

For today’s visit, the ship moving through the Eisenhower Lock was the Thalassa Desgagnes, an asphalt and bitumen carrying tanker of Desgagnés Tanker Inc. from Quebec City, Quebec.  (more info on this tanker here). It was heading downstream to the port of Montreal.

Once the ship is into the confines of the lock, the upstream lock is closed behind it to hold out any additional water from the upstream end of the lock and water is allowed to drain from the lock in a controlled fashion and the water level in the lock drops down until the water level in the lock is the same as the water level of the lower reaches of the river.

Once the vessel is in position in the locks, the whole process of lowering the water level is quite quick. In the case of the Eisenhower Lock, it takes about 7 minutes to lower the water the required amount for the vessel to proceed on to its destination at the lower level. The locks are used by both recreational and commercial craft with the maximum size for commercial vessels using the St. Lawrence Seaway locks being: 225.5 m (740 ft.) length; 23.7 m (78 ft.) beam; 8.08 m (26 ft., 6 in.) draft; 35.5 m (116.5 ft.) height above water.

At the Eisenhower site, there is an outdoor information booth where information about the identity and time of passage of the next large commercial ships is available.  Inside the building, there are both active and passive displays about the history of the Seaway as well as a gift shop run by the Massena Chamber of Commerce. Interesting information about the location of commercial ships in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System can also be found on-line at:

Once the Thalassa Desgagnes had passed through the Eisenhower Lock and was on its way further downstream toward the Port of Montreal, I also pointed my vehicle downstream, crossed the bridge at Cornwall and enjoyed a lovely sunset on my my way home.


More Massena area images here.




About Ron

Ron has long had an interest in photography and traveling and, in recent years, has had more time to devote to both activities. Long a Pentax user, Ron switched to Nikon gear when he went digital. The advent of the digital SLR camera, and the ease of the internet blogging process, has provided a venue for sharing his photography and travel experience at the local, national and international level. More about Ron
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